The Madison Borough Council on Monday night voted 4-2 to award the construction contract for two synthetic turf sports fields—the first phase of the long-discussed Madison Recreation Complex—to The Landtek Group of Amityville, N.Y.
The decisive vote, in which council members Robert Conley and Sam Cerciello dissented, ended years of emotional debate and delay amid staunch opposition by a small but vocal minority in the community who criticized everything from the project's cost and planning to its impact on the environment and possible effects on the health of people who would use it.
The vote was punctuated by approving applause by the large crowd in the council chamber. Groundbreaking could take place within the next few weeks.
The fields, to be built at an estimated cost of $3.398 million, will be located on The Pit, a 10-acre site adjacent to Madison High School that is part of the so-called 49 Acres parcel annexed from Florham Park earlier this year.
Financing for the project will come from a combination of interest-only bonds, user fees, and private sponsorships and donations.
Landtek’s bid was the second-lowest among 11 bids for the project—$2,693,000, along with alternate bids of $629,000 and $76,000, for lights and other items, for a total value of $3.398 million.
To expedite the vote, the council shifted public comments to the beginning of the meeting.
Bob McDowell, a Democratic candidate for borough council, asked for specific details regarding "payback" for the remainder of the project’s financing.
Councilman Robert Catalanello said the Bullpen Club hopes to raise $100,000 through a 50-50 raffle, and the borough is in the process of setting up meetings with “major corporations” and local businesses regarding sponsorship deals.
He did not disclose the names of the corporations. He added that the Madison Athletic Foundation expects to collect $50,000 in user fees by the summer, which will cover interest payments for the first two years of the project’s bonds. “It’s our goal to have the entire amount paid for within three years,” he said.
Resident Jane Reynolds said she fears the composition of the synthetic turf and the crumb rubber used to cushion play, saying the chemicals in the turf pose a health risk to people and could possibly leach into the drinking water aquifer beneath the site.
”We bought fields at [the] Bayley Ellard School; can’t they be fixed up for less money?” she asked. “Why are we rushing into this?”
Resident Paul DiGiacomo, a supporter of the project and member of the Madison Athletic Foundation, said he reviewed emails and noted the crumb rubber issue was talked about as far back as 2007. “When people say we’re rushing into this, it’s simply not true,” he said.
Resident Tim Harrington admitted that “the train has left the station on this particular project,” but criticized the council’s decision to spend millions on the fields while there are borough roads in dire need of repair. “No way we’re only going to spend $750,000 on road repair next year.”
Madison Athletic Foundation President Marty Horn praised the council’s selection of Landtek, which has installed fields at a number of universities, as well as at baseball’s Citi Field, the new Meadowlands Stadium and Red Bulls Stadium. He also emphasized that even if fundraising falls short of goal, funding through Open Space monies, and revenue from marketing, user fees and camps will be substantial enough to cover interest and principal over the life of the bond.
Horn reiterated how much the new fields are needed, due to the poor condition of existing fields in town. Concerns over possible chemical issues, he said, are baseless, and borough administrator Ray Codey said that in the due diligence of Landtek no litigation related to chemicals or the composition of the turf was found.
In council discussion, Conley called the fields a “great concept,” but one that could potentially burden taxpayers.
Cerciello repeated his view that he “has always been 1000% behind the project, I just like things done right. I am just concerned that we’re going to get our money’s worth.”
“This is not about politics,” Councilman Don Links said. “It’s about right and wrong, and that means it’s about children…their safety, and their ability to play sports that they love. It’s time to put up or shut up, and vote.”
Councilwoman Jeannie Tsukamoto said she supports the project “because it is a good investment for Madison.”